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Friday, December 27, 2013

Xmas Blog #6: Another Year, Another Review!

It's just a few days to go and 2013 will be toast.

Cue the toast...

Personally, it's been a year of ups and downs. Professionally, it's been QUITE the year.

Starting off in January of 2013, was Opera McGill's outstanding production of John Musto and Mark Campbell's VOLPONE. We did a first-ever live HD webcast on opening night (seven cameras all directed brilliantly by the legendary George Massenburg) with the composer in attendance. The cast was terrific, and Julian Wachner (in his farewell performance with Opera McGill) conducted the show superbly. I was exceptionally happy with the final production -- amazing set and costumes by the husband/wife team of Vincent Lefevre and Ginette Grenier, the Opera McGill debut of makeup designer Florence Cornet (doing terrific work to transform the characters into their animalistic roots), and most impressively the lighting design of Serge Filiatrault who was aided by a whole new set of instruments donated by a wonderful patron. The lights literally flew around the stage and helped to create a memorable evening. The revolving set worked wonders and I enjoyed the challenge of directing a show on a turntable - my first time.



In March, Opera McGill collaborated with the McGill Chamber Orchestra, led by Boris Brott, to produce two terrific evenings of Mozart's DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE. Initially I thought it would be a "semi-staged / in-concert" type of production, but it ended up fully staged and fully produced. I put the orchestra onstage, to put Mozart literally center stage, and then worked the characters to enter and exit from every conceivable place in Pollack Hall. We used the audience area as a major focal point, and it was exciting to light the audience as well as the stage. Projections by Vincent were fun and imaginative, the student casts (doubled) were exceptional, Florence's makeup really made the evening magical, but it was the concept that blew me away.

So, humbly submitted, it was my concept, but it was really only an idea -- a Steampunk Flute -- that came to me (like most of my concepts) in the shower one morning. It made sense, industrialize the followers of Sarastro, but in an H.G. Wells / Jules Verne way, and let the Queen and her ladies be a combo of the Narnian Ice Queen and Nicole Kidmann in the Golden Compass movie. Then I researched Steampunk, the sci-fi inspirations, how shows I loved (especially Sanctuary and Fringe) dipped in and out of Steampunk design, and I saw very clearly how easy it would be to move in that direction. But the real transformation of the show happened when Ginette Grenier created her designs. They were simply stunning and amazing. She and I had a lot of fun shopping in a few Montreal gothic/steampunk stores and I must say her genius was shown in spades on this show.

I would happily do this show anywhere, anytime. It looked fantastic, audiences really loved it (especially in combination with the animated projections for things like the Dragon), and it came together so effortlessly. Any takers?!



The day after FLUTE closed, I flew to Fargo for a FIGARO. I'd been to Fargo the year before for a fabulous FIDELIO and really enjoyed my time there. I was looking forward to directing FIGARO, but honestly was nervous. Rather nervous.

First off, LE NOZZE DI FIGARO is my favorite opera. I have high expectations for it - musically it is perfect and dramatically I think parts of it go beyond anything written for the stage. I had about 10 days to stage the whole show, with more days set aside for run thrus. The design was borrowed from the Fargo-Moorehead Opera's fall production of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE and we took those elements and revitalized and re-visualized them for the demands of NOZZE. Conducted by the talented Stephen Sulich, it featured a cast that was marvellous. Much of the cast (assembled by GD David Hamilton) included colleagues that not only work together on the voice faculty at Concordia College, but sing together. Their synergy and professionalism was inspirational, frankly, and I think that those students at Concordia are REALLY LUCKY to be studying in a department with these exceptional performers. The show was PSM'd by the amazing Tom Kosis. I do hope to return sometime 'cause Fargo is a great city, with really good local brews and amazing opera.

Then the spring came and went, the summer came and still I waited for my hernia repair surgery to get scheduled. Finally in late July, it happened. The five to ten days of recovery happened, followed by a month of true recovery. Luckily my wife and I had decided to stay out of opera for the summer and stay home. It wasn't a good time, but I got through it.  A few really good fun times were had on our deck with neighbors and friends. I grilled a lot. And I wrote a play.

Said play, "Christmas in Peru" is a family comedy about a young woman studying opera in NYC, her hipster boyfriend trying to be a writer, and her family who lives in Peru, NY. She brings the boyfriend home for Christmas and the fun begins. Inspired by people in my life, my wife and my experiences when we were pursuing our operatic careers, and a Christmastime breakfast brunch in Peru at a former student's family homestead, I wrote two of the three acts in a weekend. I think it's funny, not sure. I'm going to spend time this Christmas revising it, as there are way too many characters. It reads a bit too much like a movie and the ending doesn't have the impact I want. We will see.

I wrote the play simply because I'm writing an opera libretto for a planned world premiere in 2017. I needed to get text out of me, and wanted to see how difficult that might be. The world premiere is top secret, sort of, about one of the most powerful people ever to have walked the planet. It was good to write after all these years!

Then the fall came upon us all and lots, LOTS of activity at Opera McGill.

A record number of singers got cast in 5 opera productions (3 with orchestra), one scenes program, and one pastiche called "A Shakespeare Serenade". Additionally, with the focus of the season being on Shakespeare inspired opera, I found two amazing collaborators -- Paul Yachnin (Tomlinson Professor of Shakespeare at McGill) and Paul Hopkins (artistic director of Repercussion Theatre) -- to work and research with my students once a month in what we have called "Shakespeare Sessions" to explore the connections between opera and theatre with an emphasis on Shakespeare and operatic treatments of Shakespeare plays. They've been super inspiring sessions, and you can see the 8 minute mini-documentaries here:

Shakespeare Session Mini-documentary! Click Here

The fall production of Handel's masterpiece GIULIO CESARE IN EGITTO was a success, beating our previous box office record for the annual baroque opera. Our guest stage director, Tom Diamond, and guest conductor, Jordan de Souza, did quite a good job bringing this operatic gem to life and I was super impressed by the cast, comprised by 8 mezzo-sopranos, a counter tenor, 2 sopranos, and three bass-baritones. Gotta say, I'm a lucky director of opera studies having such talented students! Here's a link to the Video Trailer for CESARE:

Trailer for GIULIO CESARE

Less than a week later, we were performing a double-bill of THE TELEPHONE and LA VOIX HUMAINE in the Wirth Opera Studio as a fund raiser for the Montreal Women's Centre. I decided to add it to our season after the fall auditions, and not only played the performances (I love playing the Poulenc) but staged them. We did two different versions - the matinee was done in period and very conscious of the text, and the evening was updated (TELEPHONE) as well as directed in a mostly subtextual manner (VOIX). It was fun to create four different operas for just one day's performance.

While CESARE and the double-bill were being rehearsed and performed, I also was coaching the January 2014 opera: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. Spending hours and hours working on the score as a vocal coach with the individual cast members was the perfect way to really get to know the opera intimately. I can't wait till stagings begin on January 3rd!



In the midst of all of this opera, we experienced a family setback that I won't blog about. However, it has become clear that while many have embraced us, some have not. When I look into the future, I just don't see how my family and I can be happy in our current situation and flourish in the way we deserve to flourish. There are lots of decisions to be made but fortunately, any and all decisions have to be postponed until after March 2014.

Looking ahead: Britten in January, a gig in DC to-be-announced soon, a Shakespeare scenes program in March, a Bellini opera with MCO in March, completing Act Two of my new opera libretto by May 1st, and a reading of "Christmas in Peru" hopefully in April, plus three more Shakespeare sessions, and super special guests arriving January thru March to work, conduct, coach, choreograph, and teach my wonderful talented Opera McGill students. Can't wait!


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